The 10-step Korean skin care routine, explained

The 10-step Korean skin care routine, explained

The 10-step Korean skin care routine is not just a routine; it’s a lifestyle, a ritual, an art. In Korean culture, cosmetics always had a deeper meaning. Traditionally, it is believed that the physical appearance reflects the interior person. Therefore, Koreans have always thought to present themselves at their best. This starts with healthy skin, and it starts from the inside. Avoiding skin imperfections is more important than covering them up with makeup, and a slow and long-term approach is more important than overnight results.

Nowadays, the 10-step routine has become a global phenomenon that is implemented by people all over the world. But what does the 10 step Korean skin care routine consist of? Do you have to follow all steps? And where should you start? Let’s find out.


The ten steps of the 10-step Korean skin care routine

  1. Oil-based cleanser

Oil-based cleansers are the first step of the 10-step Korean skin care routine and the first step of the double cleanse. They feel nice on the skin as they have a smooth, silk-like texture as you massage them onto your face. But they don’t just feel nice – they remove all oil-based impurities, like makeup(even waterproof!), sunscreen, and excess sebum from your skin, and they do it gently without strippingyour skin of the beneficial oils that keep your skin healthy. Those who suffer from acne have fallen in love with this step as it allows them to prevent and control breakouts.

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  1. Water-based cleanser

Water-based cleansers are the second step of the double cleanse. Double cleansing is recommended by aestheticians and dermatologists as it helps to thoroughly remove any impurities that can cause breakouts. Water-based cleansers remove all water-based impurities, like sweat and dirt, and help remove any residue from the oil-based cleanser. The two cleansers combined help properly cleanse your skin.

Tip: generally, water-based cleansers can be drying and stripping – typically due to the high pH levelsand sulfates in these cleansers. The key is to use a gentle and hydrating, low pH water-based cleanser so that your skin gets a proper cleanse without disrupting the skin barrier.

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  1. Exfoliator

There are different methods of exfoliation, but Korean skin care mostly focuses on chemical exfoliation. Exfoliation helps get rid of dead skin cells and encourages cell turnover in your skin, which results in smooth and radiant skin. Regular exfoliation will also help your other skin care products absorb more easily and work more effectively.

Korean chemical exfoliants tend to use either alpha-hydroxyl acid (AHA), beta-hydroxyl acid (BHA) or poly-hydroxy acid (PHA):

  • AHA’s like lactic acid and glycolic acid, are great to treat wrinkles and sun-damaged skin, and are especially helpful for people with dry, rough skin and for concerns like ketosis pilaris.
  • BHA’s like salicylic acid are great for oily and acne-prone skin, as salicylic acid penetrates the skin more deeply and deep-cleans pores to dissolve sebum and dirt. It also helps treat acne and helps remove blackheads.
  • PHA’s are useful for people with sensitive skin, like rosacea and eczema. They penetrate the skin less deeply and exfoliate slower and more gently. 

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  1. Toner

Korean toners are different from Western toners. The main goal of any Korean toner is to hydrate the skin and balance its pH. If your skin has a low pH level, you can suffer from redness, irritation, and acne, while if the pH is too high it can cause dryness and flaking. We obviously don’t want either, which is why we use a toner. Toners return skin to its ideal pH level, which is a pH of about 5.5.

Not only do Korean toners hydrate and balance the skin’s pH, they also prep the skin for the next steps that follow in your skin care routine. They hydrate the skin enough to help it absorb your other skin care products better. Think of your skin like a sponge: a damp sponge absorbs more than a dry sponge. 

Tip: even if you follow the Korean skin care routine and begin each morning with a radiant face, it is inevitable that your skin will lose hydration during the day. An easy treatment that will re-hydrate your skin, is facial mist.

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  1. Essence

Essences, much like toners, drench your skin with hydration, maximizing your skin’s ability to absorb the rest of your skin care products. But an essence is not to be confused with a toner. Essences are generally more concentrated than toners, containing higher contents of hydrating, brightening, and anti-aging ingredients. They are perfect to layer after using toner, creating a radiant base for healthy skin. 

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  1. Treatment

Serums and ampoules, also called treatments, contain high concentrations of active ingredients to effectively target any skin concern you can think of. If you want to address a specific skin concern, like acne, hyperpigmentation, or wrinkles, there is a serum out there that can help.

Ampoules are even more concentrated forms of serum. You can think of them as boosters. They often contain a higher concentration of active ingredients and are used for a shorter period of time. For example, you may want to use an ampoule in your Korean skin care routine so you can get quickresults before a big event.

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  1. Sheet mask

Sheet masks play a big role in the Korean skin care routine. The concentrated essence drenches your skin with hydration and infuses your skin with nourishment, while the sheet creates a barrier that allows the skin to fully absorb the moisture and nutrients.

Sheet masks target many different skin concerns like dryness, irritation, and redness, and give you a moment to take a step back and relax, which naturally makes them a popular item all across the world.

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  1. Eye cream

The skin around your eyes is the thinnest and most delicate on your face and needs special care. Regularly using an intensive eye cream can prevent and control wrinkles, dark circles, and puffiness. Eye creams are especially formulated to be extra gentle and non-irritating and are concentrated with powerful anti-aging ingredients.

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  1. Moisturizer

Hydration is key in the Korean skin care routine. Moisturizers nourish the skin and maintain a healthy level of hydration. They come in different textures, such as creams, lotions, gels, and sleeping masks. Apply your moisturizer on damp skin to lock in moisture effectively – applying moisturizer on a completely dry face won’t give your skin the proper hydration it needs. 

Tip: always use a spatula if your moisturizer comes in a jar, as placing your fingers in the container can transmit bacteria. Make sure to wash the spatula regularly too.

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  1. Sunscreen

Sunscreen is arguably the most important step of your skin care routine. It is the easiest and most effective way to prevent skin cancer and premature aging. There is one simple rule: always use sunscreen during the day. No matter if it is sunny or cloudy, and no matter if you go out or stay home all day. Even if you cannot see the sun, it is still there, and the sun rays will still reach your skin. Sunscreen is applied as the last step of your morning skin care routine and should be re-applied every two hours for effective protection.

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Do you have to follow all ten steps of the 10-step Korean skin care routine?

Not everyone needs a 10-step routine. It’s not about using as many products as possible, but rather about having the right products that do the right things for your skin and using them in the right order.

With that said, everyone should have a basic daily skin care routine, consisting of at least three steps: cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.


Not sure where to start?

Skin care is personal, and we would love to help you pick the right products for your skin needs. Just email us at with your skin type and any skin concerns, and we will give you personalised skin care recommendations!

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